Ernie eyes Rory and Tiger
Rory McIlroy on his pro debut at the British Masters in September 2007

Rory McIlroy on his pro debut at the British Masters in September 2007

From Brian Keogh in Dubai

Ernie Els will be keeping one eye on the Tiger Woods and another on teen star Rory McIlroy in Dubai this week.

The Big Easy makes his first event of the season by taking on the likes of heavy hitters McIlroy and Woods in the Dubai Desert Classic.

Yet while Tiger is the man to beat as far as Els is concerned, the rusty South African is well aware that players like Woods and ISM stablemate McIlroy are in red-hot form.

Speaking at the opening of his latest course design, The Els Club at Dubai Sports City, Els said: "I haven't had a chance to play with Rory yet. But he's going to be a real star, isn't he?

"From what I have seen, he has a great swing and all the tools you need to be a really great player. He's certainly not afraid of anyone."

After jumping 11 places to 190th in the world, just one place behind Paul McGinley, McIlroy is determined to bounce back to form after a disappointing final round 74 saw him slip from eighth to 33rd in the Qatar Masters.

And Els , 38, knows that he could be left for dead after watching some scintillating early-season form from his rivals on TV.

He said: “Tiger is always on a hot streak, whether he’s winning or not, and he is obviously on a hot streak again.

"I didn’t see the golf last night but I watched Adam Scott winning in Qatar and shooting 61. The boys are firing low and very early in the year, so it should be an exciting new season.

“Adam’s win was just incredible and starting with five birdies and to then shoot 61 on a final day with all the pressure on is amazing. I don’t know how many times that's been done in a last round, so it’s really well done."

Woods opened his season with an eight-shot victory in the Buick Invitational on Sunday before jetting out to Dubai.

And while Scott, 27, romped to a three-shot win in Qatar to go from eighth to fourth in the latest world rankings, Els still ranks Woods in a class of his own.

Els said: “A lot of guys in their late 20s and early 30s are certainly coming to the fore right now.

“But obviously Tiger still has the best mind in golf and he has no rival when it comes to his short game.

"If he makes any mistakes he has the ability to sink those mile long putts as we saw yesterday at the Buick."

And after a six-week break from the game, Els knows it will be asking a lot to challenge Woods has opted to ease his normally punishing schedule so he will be fresh for the Masters at Augusta.

With two US Opens and on Claret Jug on his sideboard, Els has decided to reduce his normally hectic schedule so he can add to his major haul.

Els said: "It’s my first event of the year and I have been in South Africa last week preparing so I am looking forward to this week as it always one of my favourite events of the year.

“I am playing here in Dubai and then playing in India next week, which is another exciting market for us and then I have two weeks off and then head back to London before heading to America for my warm-up ahead of The Masters.

"I will be Florida for four to five weeks and then play the US Masters and hopefully I will be on form by then.

“I have my schedule a little softer this year compared to other years so that I can concentrate more on the Majors this year. I will be spending more time at home in London with the kids and doing the school run.”

As for his Irish course design, at Hangman's Point in Kinsale Harbour, he said: "Kinsale is not happening at the moment. The people in the town don't want homes and houses built. So we will have to wait and see."

Latest World Rankings
(last week)

1 (1) Tiger Woods
2 (2) Phil Mickelson
3 (3) Steve Stricker
4 (8) Adam Scott
5 (5) Ernie Els
6 (4) Jim Furyk
7 (6) Justin Rose
8 (7) KJ Choi
9 (9) Rory Sabbatini
10 (10 Padraig Harrington

Other Irish
110 (111) Graeme McDowell
189 (186) Paul McGinley
190 (201) Rory McIlroy
217 (217) Darren Clarke
259 (255) Peter Lawrie
319 (335) Damien McGrane
386 (376) Gary Murphy